Health care can be form of stimulus
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Scott Jagow: It appears former Senator Tom Daschle will be Barack Obama’s Health Secretary. Yesterday, Daschle held a conference call with a thousand people to talk about ideas for health care reform. He wants to start building consensus grassroots style.
Time to visit with our economics correspondent, Chris Farrell. Chris, reform is obviously needed, but can we really afford something like universal health care with everything else that’s going on in the economy?
Chris Farrell: First of all, this would be spending that would help out Main Street, the average worker. We’re in this recession dated back to December, we all get the feeling that this recession is getting worse. And so all these workers losing their jobs. And guess what happens when they lose their jobs? They lose their health care — their family loses their health care. And I know there’s this thing called Cobra, which allows you to continue your health care plan. You ever looked at Cobra? You ever seen how much it costs?
Jagow: Yeah, it’s really expensive.
Farrell: I mean, you’ve lost your job! And then you have to pay this amount of money to continue your health care so your family gets coverage? I mean, who designed this?
Jagow: So are you suggesting that we spend on health care as a stimulus package for the economy?
Farrell: Absolutely. AS a stimulus package for the economy, partly, it’s the right thing to do. Rather than this notion that we can’t do it, we can’t afford it, an economic crisis provides the opportunity of two real benefits. It will be part of the fiscal stimulus, and it will help out those families. Think about families when they lose their job. You know what? You can’t time when your kids get sick. And there’s all kinds of costs. And what is it — half of all bankruptcies revolve around medical illness? We have lots of uninsured as it is already? So this would really help people out. But it’s not one of these notions that, well, we need people to shop more. No, we don’t need people to shop more. But people need economic security, they need to feel better, they need to not have to worry about their children getting sick. This is a good fiscal stimulus package — embrace it and go big.
Jagow: How much do you think it would cost to do this right, and not skimp on it so much that it doesn’t improve the system?
Farrell: Well, Dean Baker’s number that he uses, about $160 billion — and that seemed like a reasonable number to me, and that’s a reasonable number for a fiscal stimulus. I don’t know how much more the economy could absorb in terms of those figures. It’s using tax credits, a little bit of mandates, opening up Medicare, opening up Medicaid. Longer term, you set up a better system.
Jagow: I have to say, $160 billion a few months ago probably would have sounded like a lot more, but recently . . .
Farrell: Hahaha. That’s right, what was the old famous quip from Everett Dirkson, you know, “Billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, and all of a sudden, you’re talking real money.”
Jagow: Chris Farrell, our economics correspondent. Thanks.
Farrell: Thanks a lot.
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